EGG HARBOR – The tables at the Democratic Party convention here at the Vienna Inn bore flags with the names of Atlantic County’s 23 towns on them and delegates from those towns sat at those tables, and as they slapped backs, smooched and clapped, it was difficult not to notice two of Atlantic City’s four tables dominated by either Mayor Lorenzo Langford or Councilman Marty Small.
They dined sedately and separately with their respective entourages in chairs that appeared no different from any of the others, but these two men are in a war right now for the mayor’s seat back in their seaside hometown.
They came out of a local Democratic Party meeting last week exactly deadlocked at 24 votes apiece.
“If they had counted one absentee vote, that would have put me over the top to get the party’s support,” said Langford, the veteran, who stunned Mayor Jim Whelan in 2001, subsequently lost to Bob Levy, then came back and won a special election after Levi left office after suffering a collapse amid charges that he had falsified his Vietnam service record.
Now Langford wants another four years, and while there are others in the Democratic Party primary – Councilman Dennis Mason, and former Neighborhood Services Director David Tayoun – most insiders say Small poses the most aggressive threat.
An instantly recognizable former Stockton College star, Obama operator and street-level political presence, Small also walks around with powerful backers, including Whelan, now a state senator who nurses no special affection for old foe Langford.
“We expect to get a decision from the state party’s special counsel this week,” Small said of his and Langford’s showdown for local organization support, which the Atlantic City Democrats immediately kicked upstairs to the state level – a point confirmed by State Party Chairman Joseph Cryan.
Small’s supporters shook their heads in the face of Langford’s efforts to make his lone absentee vote into something significant, pointing out that if other committee members had known they didn’t have to be at last week’s meeting in order to vote, they would have mailed in their absentee votes for Small.
Tonight, each candidate worked his corner, on the Atlantic City side of the room.